02 April 2015


by Andy Weddington
Thursday, 02 April 2015

"To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless." Mike Krzyzewski

Closing in on a half century ago during spring and into the summer - measuring; remeasuring; sawing; shaping; bending; gluing; clamping; screwing; sanding; caulking; and painting - Harry and Ken built a wood boat. It was a one-man row boat. 

Experienced boat builders they were not - not professional nor even competent amateurs for that matter. They turned to on that boat, anyway. It was the only boat they'd ever build. But it was the only boat they needed to build - and for purposes more important and enduring than its intended function - rowing (and making it easier to fish spots not reachable on shore). 

There was no boatyard. There was not even a garage or work-shed. The roughly 8 feet in length and less than half that in beam boat was built atop a wood picnic table centered on a dirt with sparse gravel driveway that ended under a single car carport open on two sides. 

The boat plan, origin unknown, was basic. The boat was not a design for speed but for stability and safety and utility. It was more a workhorse than racehorse. 

Their tools simple - measuring tape and pencil; handsaws; planes; clamps; chisels; screwdrivers; sandpaper; etc. Only a circular saw and drill required electrical power. Otherwise it was hands and shoulders that worked the wood, and sweat sometimes mixed with a drop or two of blood that tempered and seasoned it. A tarp protected the work in progress. 

For three or four months - weekday evenings and weekends till dark and sometimes under the glow of a single 100 watt bulb - the boat took shape. 

Harry, whose building experience rested mostly in small balsa wood model planes, knew how to read a plan and the importance of precision work - measuring twice and cutting once. He was a patient sort, a perfectionist, who did things the right way the first time. He mentored Ken. 

The boat built it was time for finish - caulk; prime; and paint - to make watertight. The blue hue, brushed on in multiple coats, was that a child would think to color water. 

So simple. It was a beautiful boat! 

Roped to the frame of a carrier atop a Rambler sedan the nameless boat was driven to a pond in a neighboring town for trials. 

The builders toted the awkward but not heavy boat to the water. Ken rowed. Harry directed and watched from shore. 

The boat floated and cut through the water but to say it glided would be an exaggeration. But it was steady, maneuverable, and did not leak. 

With that Harry and Ken accomplished, with enthusiasm and commitment and teamwork, something quite remarkable - a boat. And a boat load of enduring lessons. And memories. 

Four decades before Harry and Ken built their boat there was George. 

George was a boat builder. He, too, built row boats with his hands and shoulders and simple tools. Too, sweat and blood seasoned his woods. His boats were not one-man nor short and wide and clunky but long and narrow and sleek and built for speed. His boats were racehorses and workhorses. 

George's boats were built for a purpose - to race. But his boats, like Harry and Ken's boat, made for greater purpose and enduring lessons and memories to those who gripped oars and rowed them.  

George was not an amateur wood worker. He was a master shell builder who had been mentored by his father. He built more than one. A lot more than one. And each boat carried a name. 

The 'Husky Clipper' - with coxswain Bob and John; Gordon; Jim; George; Roger; Don; Joe; and Chuck on oars - was George's work. Al, who coached the crew, and artisan George, watched from shore and sometimes afloat. 

There is not a book, yet, about the one-of-a-kind nameless one-man blue row boat Harry and Ken built. That boat is long gone - time and the elements reclaimed. There may be photographs, somewhere. But any story, with or without photographs, would not be so much about the boat per se but what the boat taught - under construction and on the water. 

However, there is a recent book out about the boats George built and the (aforementioned) group of men that powered one named the 'Husky Clipper' - winning races, championships, medals, and a place in history. 

That book, 'The Boys in the Boat - Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics' by Daniel James Brown, is a remarkable tale - history, truth, fact - Americans must read for three reasons: 1) it is purely and uniquely American drama; 2) as refresher that with commitment and perseverance and sacrifice and teamwork the seeming insurmountable is conquerable; 3) and most importantly, it's reminder of the horrors an unchecked evil mad man and regime can levy on the world. 

I put the book down only to sleep.

Read this book! 

In closing...

As to Coach Krzyzewski's opening quote, his sentiment goes to any team endeavor - on court, water, playing field, and drill or battlefield. 

Case in point, Marine Corps close order drill teaches immediate obedience to orders and teamwork (also critical to competitive rowing). Like the boat coxswain bringing order to the boat, the drill instructor is the platoon's coxswain. The drill instructor gives commands and calls cadence and corrects - to efficiently move the platoon from Point A to Point B. But it takes countless hours on the field, the grinder, for the platoon to meld as one in movement and sound. And when it does, as a swiftly gliding racing shell, it is a beautiful thing to behold. 

Saturday afternoon Coach K's Duke Blue Devils play a Final Four semifinal game. You don't get that deep into the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament without the team, in a boat or not, 'pulling as one' and finding their swing. 

Maybe the Blue Devils, with tournament history and championship titles as proof of conquering the insurmountable, will clip(per) down the nets Monday night. They have an experienced coxswain at the helm. It's the crew that must execute, in perfect harmony - five acting as one; selflessness. They're all in the boat together. 

We cheer! 

Post Script

I did not know George - George Pocock - a master of building racing shells, rowing them, and a guru of the psychology of rowing. He died in 1976. And this week was my first learning of him. 

Al? Al Ulbrickson was 'The Boys'- Bob Moch; John White Jr.; Gordon Adam; Jim "Stub" McMillin; George "Shorty" Hunt; Roger Morris; Don Hume; Joe Rantz; Chuck Day - coach at the University of Washington. 

I do know Harry and Ken - Harry, my Dad and Ken, my brother. They built a great row boat that I witnessed from start to water trials. Dad also built firearms, hunting arrows, portable tree stands, and a single-car garage and most anything he put his mind to. Ken can build most anything but has mastered crafting fly rods. I own two beauties. There is something indescribably wonderful about wading a stream and landing trout on a rod built by your brother (who is, too, a Marine). Dad died not quite 15 months ago. Ken and I will soon wade a trout stream, and remember our Dad - a master fly fisherman - our mentor. 

Thus there's more than one way to enjoy the calm of water. Fly fishing, like rowing and boat building and close order drill and basketball, is steep in psychology. Figuring out what makes humans tick is one thing. But try thinking like a trout. 

No comments: